I just spent nearly an hour chatting with New York psychologist Vivian Diller, author of face it: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change, about aging, dating, beauty, attraction and the role looks and appearance play in our lives.
First thing the 59-year-old Ph.D. told me was her age, saying that it was important for mid-lifers like herself to be proud of their years of experience, rather than hide them. She went on to say (which I loved) that this doesn’t mean that looks aren’t important, because they are. “Too many psychologists rely on the comforting adage that ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ — which of course is true — but looks matter too especially in our youth and beauty obsessed culture.” This is what she feels is the challenge; how can I enjoy my appearance without feeling that looks matter in the way the media has convinced us they do (as in you have to look 20 years younger to be attractive).
While we can pretend to ourselves that looks don’t impact our lives, there’s biological, sociological and economic evidence that they do — both personally and professionally. Dr. Diller cited research that shows that attractive people more easily secure jobs and make more money in today’s society. “The advantages of beauty have been around for as long as we can remember and that fact is not likely going to change. While we can’t ignore it, we can come to grips with this reality by finding the proper balance between paying attention to our appearance and holding onto values that go beyond skin deep. Most important, as we age the playing field levels and the need for that balance becomes even more apparent.”
Dr. Diller says that while you grow up, your family has a huge influence (positive or negative) on how attractive you feel about yourself. For example, if you have a hypercritical mother or rejecting father, you may not feel very attractive (even if you have physical features that objectively are). The great thing about normal development is that as you age and separate from your primary family, you can take charge over your experience of attractiveness: “You have the choice to view yourself more positively and surround yourself by caring people who treat you in a much more affirming way. As you enter mid-life and your looks inevitably change (it happens to us all!), it’s especially important to provide a supportive internal voice that says, ‘you look great at 50, or 60 and so on.’ It’s not about comparing yourself to someone 20 years younger, but about looking the best you can for your age. ”
Diller feels attractiveness can be viewed by dividing it into three areas; genetics, grooming and attitude. Obviously we are born with certain physical attributes. Those are givens. But we do have control over our personal grooming and most importantly, our attitudes. “While most of us grow to accept the bodies and faces we are born with (except, of course, those who surgically change them), the third quality ultimately plays the largest role in our experience of our attractiveness. Even for those who have plastic surgery, in the end it’s how we feel about how we look that matters most.”
I asked her what she would say to the 65-year-old single woman who was feeling hopeless about ever finding someone, online or otherwise, especially after revealing her age. I loved her take on it, which was this, “Remember Baby Boomers are hitting midlife as we speak, so literally 10,000 people will be turning 65 every single day for the next 19 years. That makes the dating pool for that age group huge! There are millions of other men and women feeling exactly like this 65-year-old does, so she is not alone.” She went on to say, “The belief that the only thing that attracts people of that age is someone who looks 20 years younger age is beginning to wane. There are just so many of us now and so many looking for the kind of companionship that younger people can’t provide. A 65-year-old man isn’t necessarily interested in starting over with a much younger partner. That younger woman may want to create a home or be eager for children, a 65-year-old woman wants to be with someone who shares her experiences, memories and interests — someone who remembers when the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel sang their own songs. Instead of feeling like you are alone and victimized, recognize the power you have simply by the numbers of others who share your age and experiences. It’s empowering to be aware of how many others are out there who have similar needs.”
Diller, a former professional ballerina and model for Wilhelmina, had a few thoughts on posting dating profile photos as well — saying that when she auditioned for dance roles or went on ‘go-sees’ (which is what going up for modeling jobs is called), it was all about confidence. “The women who had the perfect features or beautiful bodies didn’t necessarily get the work. It was the ones who walked into the room feeling self-assured and those who connected with the camera. View your photo as an opportunity to express yourself. Think about the ways your eyes can tell others about who you are. It doesn’t matter if you have lines around your eyes or mouth — it’s what your eyes and smile say. Let your photo express who you are with confidence and someone out there will find that attractive. You’d be surprised how often it works that way.”
Instead of anticipating failure, Dr. Diller says, “Enjoy your appearance and feel attractive before you put yourself on an (online dating) site. To seek that approval, as if someone else is going to make you feel attractive, rarely happens.”